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Political literacy and global learning

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Political literacy and global learning

02 November, 2017

Asking young people to engage with politics is likely to get a similar reaction to asking them to eat their vegetables. However, like eating your greens politics is extremely important. Understanding how our political systems work is vital to becoming an active citizen who engages in issues and works to make our local area and the world a better place. The classroom is the perfect environment to give your students the basic political knowledge which they need. They can then build upon this awareness through pursuing their own interest in social issues. 

What is political literacy?

Political literacy can be defined as a set of abilities that are required for citizens to participate in democratic society. This goes beyond just knowing or reading about politics. It includes skills such as critical thinking, public speaking, debating, and lobbying skills. These skills can be developed through using global learning in the classroom, teaching students about global issues and politics in the same breath. To introduce you to developing political literacy in the classroom, the Guardian Teacher Network has produced a short article discussing some practitioners’ previous experiences. Additionally, here the Citizenship Foundation provides a precise summary.      

Political knowledge – The Northern Ireland Assembly and Westminster

The best place to start exploring the political world is close to home. Due to the current political situation, The Northern Ireland Assembly is frequently in the news. Its education service NIAES has produced a series of age appropriate resources (primary and post-primary) designed to introduce local political structures to your pupils. The resources cover the history of the Assembly and its current members, as well as addressing the different institutions that govern us and why these structures are necessary. For each age group, it is also suggested how each activity fits into the curriculum, developing your students’ skills in history, citizenship, English and geography.  

Want to take your learning outside of the classroom? You could schedule a school trip to your local council offices, or go see Stormont itself. Stormont visits can be arranged via this link. Additionally, you could invite some of your local MLAs into your school to talk to your students about the work that they do in your local area.     

As with Stormont, the UK government has produced a variety of resources to teach young people about Westminster. The Parliament Education Service provides teachers with resources which complement the national curriculum. A complete list of these can be found here. A good starting point would be resources that focus on introducing Parliament to younger learners. From there, you could progress to learning about how the UK’s parliamentary institutions emerged or how young people can engage with parliament in order to improve the lives of the people they care about.

Skills and global learning

As we mentioned earlier, political literacy goes far beyond knowledge about politics. It includes all the skills needed to part of a democratic society. As you have now discussed local and national affairs with your students, this an excellent opportunity to introduce a global learning dimension into your classroom learning.  

An excellent resource for this was been developed by Oxfam. ‘The Republic of You’ challenges older learners to make complex policy decisions and design the world as they see fit. Each student is placed in charge of their own country and take decisions on a variety of social issues. It provides an excellent opportunity to think critically about why governments make certain decisions, revealing the list of interests that may affect their decisions. Moreover, it encourages deep thought about global problems of inequality, and asks students to aspire to create a better world.    

Additionally, if you want to develop your student’s public speaking skills, political debates are a perfect way of doing so.  Produced by the Scottish Government, You Decide is a fantastic resource that can be used by all age groups.  Although it was developed to match the Scottish curriculum, it serves as the perfect introduction to the concept of debating through the form of a series of progressive, engaging tasks. It’s also designed for teachers with no previous experience of formal debating, aiming to making it accessible for everyone.  For younger learners, Think Global has produced a debating resource specifically aimed at primary pupils. It’s free to download; all you have to do is register with the site.  These debates are a brilliant opportunity to incorporate some examples of global learning. You could ask students to research an event occurring in the world at the moment, and then challenge them to debate its causes and solutions. Moreover, if you want to get competitive with your new found debating skills, Concern run a yearly debating competition for post primary students. They also give advice and training for primary school teachers who want to introduce debating into their classrooms.     

If you are looking for a longer term project to politically engage your students, Amnesty International has a wealth of resources on how to successfully lobby decision makers. Their teaching resources can be found here. Amnesty’s work involves international elements, and therefore provides information on topical human rights issues around the world. Using the political literacy skills your class has developed, you could organise a campaign to raise awareness around an issue, or directly lobby a local representative and ask them to act.      

The Citizenship Foundation advocate the teaching of political literacy in a holistic way.  The organisation’s teaching resources are designed for a variety of age groups, and integrate fundamental questions about fairness and equity in society into discussions about politics. They discuss diversity and tolerance, while also addressing how different stakeholders address political problems. These resources tie all the different aspects of political literacy into some appealing activities.

Politics may not be the easiest topic to bring into your classroom. However, political literacy develops skills that are essential for functioning in modern societies. It also represents the perfect opportunity to engage with global issues, bringing an international focus into your classroom. Developing these political literacy skills, and developing their knowledge beyond the classroom, is vitally important for creating the next generation of local and global citizens.  


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